Friday, May 30, 2008

dilli ka badalta roop

Maybe because I traveled more in this trip, I saw much that has changed in Delhi from even six months ago. Many of those changes may have been building for a while and are manifested now.
  • The much-maligned and much-cursed BRT corridoor has made life tough for private vehicle-owners and auto-rickshaw drivers, but pedestrians have never had it better. The traffic flow is much more organized and crossing the road is a breeze; many roads have the prized commodity that was non-existent earlier: pavements that cyclists do not encroach upon, since they have a separate lane to themselves.
  • The new buses (Tata Marcopolo) that run in these corridoors are a dream. The ride is smooth; the bus design is good; the journey is as fast as it can be in a bus; and people don't crowd the doors. The only thing is that the buses seemed poorly ventilated, due to the strange positioning of the windows.
  • The one thing that Delhi had and Mumbai didn't--precious green cover--is fast depleting. The coming of the Metro sounded the death-knell for lakhs of trees; the regret was palpable in the voices of whoever I had this discussion with, but there was also a resignation to the march of progress.
  • Was I lucky, was I so used to it that I didn't notice, or do auto-rickshaw drivers in Delhi throw less attitude at you now? I also figured that the fare calculation is done as follows: average fare to destination rounded to the next high figure + markup of Rs. 10. If the chap wasn't interested in going, he didn't haggle any more, but shook his head firmly. Strangely though, I did not encounter as many refusals this time as I have done in the past.
  • The gap between Mumbai's and Delhi's night-life seems to be reducing. While roads in Delhi used to be dead by 8 pm earlier, I saw a fair amount of traffic, bright lights and activity even past midnight on a Saturday night.
  • Traffic jams, the bane of Mumbai, are multiplying alarmingly in Delhi, despite the fact that Delhi has larger, wider and better roads. Unless it's an emergency, the office hours need to be avoided like the plague.
  • The mall culture has asserted itself with a vengeance. No less than three of these giants stand shoulder-to-shoulder in Saket (more trees destroyed), on a stretch of road that was otherwise desolate at night and only slightly busy in the day. A by-product is that the older PVR Saket bears a has-been look, even on weekends. I am told that M.G. Road in Gurgaon is known as the Mall Road now, because it is infested with shopping malls of every colour and flavour.
  • If Mumbai has Navi Mumbai, Delhi has Gurgaon--a suburb with vast, uninhabited spaces that could take the huge overflow of aspirants who want to make it big in the city. For those who knew Gurgaon for the DLF 'ship building' and 32nd Milestone, it's bizarre and even scary to see the colonies of swank offices with their glass and concrete exteriors, the high-rises that house all those for whom Delhi has become unaffordable, and the frantic pace at which construction activity is still on. While Gurgaon promises a certain lifestyle, I was also told that housing in that suburb is also becoming unaffordable with skyrocketing property prices. Plus, problems of finding parking, increasing traffic jams, and power and water shortages are rearing their heads. In short, Gurgaon's becoming as overcrowded as Delhi.
  • Now for some things that haven't changed. Connaught Place retains its essence, though several stores have shut down and new ones have taken their place. I spotted three Coffee Day outlets this time, which is two more than last time. The emporia on Baba Kharak Singh Marg are the same, right down to the attitude of the employees who work there; and the guys at Khadi still firmly believe that they're doing you a favour by billing your products and packing them. Janpath is much the same, as is Depaul's cold coffee (Thank God for that!). Dilli Haat is the same; shoppers in Delhi's markets are still a pushing, shoving lot; and auto-rickshaw drivers still love to pass a comment or two to relieve the boredom of their existence. The golgappas are the same, though I couldn't indulge as much as I'd have liked to; Hot Choc Fudge at Nirula's is sinful as ever; and filter coffee at Saravana Bhavan and Sagar Ratna is still a taste of heaven. There, I'm looking forward to the next trip already!
  • Nothing about the biggest addition to Delhi--the Metro--you'd notice. A Metro journey is on my wish-list for next time, so I'll reserve comment till then.